Winning season, new records in the books

The passing clinic that Rohan Davey and Josh Reed started in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during LSU's victory over the Crimson Tide continued last Saturday in 30-14 Tiger homecoming victory over Middle Tennessee.

The passing clinic that Rohan Davey and Josh Reed started in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during LSU's victory over the Crimson Tide continued last Saturday against the Blue Raiders of Tennessee. This time, Davey spread the wealth a bit. With the Tigers often showing four-receiver sets - sometimes coming to the line with five wideouts -Davey found not only Reed, but a multitude of Tiger receivers. In the process, the LSU air attack racked up 318 passing yards and two touchdowns in Davey's 26-of-37 performance for a 30-14 LSU homecoming victory over Middle Tennessee.

Davey's 2,659 season passing yards broke the record of 2,655 set in 1989 by Tommy Hodson. Reed had nine catches for 120 yards, giving him an LSU single-season record of 1,311 yards.

"That's a great accomplishment, I'm happy for it to go down in the history books," said Davey, who threw for a school-record 528 yards in last week's 35-21 victory over Alabama. "This is a place that I have been at since 1997. This kinda puts my stamp on it so to speak. I am really happy about it."

"It is a great honor. I owe it all to my teammates," Reed said of his records. "None of this would be possible without them. We played a real good team tonight and played hard for 60 minutes and got the win. It feels real good to come back home and get a win. It does not stop here, though, because we still have some games left to play."

The win improved LSU to 6-3 on the season and made the team bowl eligible for the second straight year under head coach Nick Saban. The Tigers' hopes for a shot at the Southeastern Conference championship and a major bowl berth were dealt a setback when Auburn came away from Georgia with a goal-line stand in the final seconds for a 24-17 win. To get to Atlanta and the SEC championship, the Tigers need to win out (OK, that might be doable), have Ole Miss lose one of its three remaining game against Georgia, Mississippi State or Vanderbilt (also conceivable) and most importantly, get Alabama to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl (stranger things have happened).

"I'm always happy when we have a winning season and I guess when you are bowl eligible you have a winning season," Saban said. "It's always good for the program when you have winning seasons. You can build on that. ... Certainly, we have a couple of more games and we are going to do everything we can to improve as a team and try to build on the momentum and take those games one game at a time and try to be successful at them."

LSU scored on its first four possessions and went into the halftime break with a 27-7 lead, but the Tigers' penchant for second-half lethargy continued, scoring only three points in the last 30 minutes of play. MTSU quarterback Wes Counts threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Dwone Hicks late in the fourth quarter for the final tally of 30-14. Those who bet on LSU minus the 17-point spread will have to learn one way or the other, it seems.

Tiger tailback LaBrandon Toefield bore the load of the LSU ground game, racking up 83 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Tiger all-around man Domanick Davis also got the ball seven times for 49 yards, including an impressive 37-yard scamper to the LSU 10 that set up the Tigers' second touchdown. Davis also became the first LSU running back this season with a receiving touchdown when Davey found him in the end zone for a score late in the first half.

LSU won the toss and uncharacteristically chose to receive the ball. The Tigers wasted no time putting points on the board with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that burned nearly six minutes off the clock. After overcoming a second-and-19 situation with consecutive strikes to Jerel Myers, Davey engineered a perfect drive, going 7-for-7 for 72 yards before handing the ball to Toefield, who scampered untouched through the middle for a six-yard touchdown run and his 14th touchdown of the season. Placekicker John Corbello missed the PAT, and the Tigers led 6-0.

"Coming into the game we wanted to get off to a good start on offense," Toefield said. "We wanted to get a lot of points on the board as quickly as possible. We wanted to let our defense play and do whatever we could to stop the no-huddle they run. They score a lot of points and so we had to come out early and set the tone."

The Blue Raiders were steadily driving on their first possession, but a fumble caused by Howard Green and recovered by Tiger linebacker Bradie James gave LSU the ball near midfield with 6:55 to go in the first quarter. Two plays later, Davis ran to his left and broke free of his defenders for a 37-yard gain. When the Raiders caught him, Davis carried two of them on his back for another two yards before being stripped of the ball at the MTSU 7. Josh Reed saved the possession by recovering the fumble, and two plays later Davey connected with Michael Clayton for a 7-yard touchdown pass. Corbello's kick was good for a 13-0 Tiger lead.

Middle Tennessee took over at its own 18 and marched down the field in an impressive 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive led by Wes Counts. The spry quarterback kept the LSU defense guessing with a no-huddle option attack, capping the drive with a 5-yard pass to Tyrone Calico. The scoring play was set up when backup running back Rashard Lee lined up as quarterback at the LSU 23, took the deep snap and scrambled 18 yards around the left end.

Davey continued the blistering performance on LSU's third drive, finding Reed and Myers numerous times to bring the Tigers to the Raider 20. On first-and-10, Reed once again demonstrated his danger after the catch. He caught a quick ditch from Davey and broke a host of tackles for a 15-yard gain. With the reception, Reed broke yet another LSU receiving record - this time Wendell Davis' single-season receiving-yards record of 1,245.

Two plays later, Toefield posted his second touchdown of the night with a 2-yard run around the right side, giving LSU a 20-7 lead with 12:10 remaining in the first half. Toe's 15th score of the year tied Kevin Faulk's 1997 total and placed him second on the team single-season touchdown list.

On the ensuing kickoff, true freshman Michael Clayton exhibited excellent athleticism and heart on special teams, racing downfield and plowing into returner Kerry Wright, crushing him to the ground. The Tiger defense stopped the Blue Raiders on the next series, ending the drive when Bradie James and Norman LeJeune combined to sack Counts for a big loss on a third-and-four conversion attempt.

LSU would score for the fourth consecutive time when Davey completed a 25-yard pass to Davis for a touchdown with 4:09 left in the half. Davis zipped along the left sideline, burning past a couple of Raider defenders before Davey deftly dropped the ball into his hands while heading to the end zone. The 80-yard, 9-play drive burned 4:21 of the clock and gave LSU a 27-7 lead.

Clayton made yet another special-teams play on the kickoff, snagging the Raiders' Reggie Jones at the ankles and sending him sprawling at the 13.

MTSU made a go of it, however, driving deep into LSU territory. Counts completed a key 39-yard pass into double coverage on the drive that could have been intercepted. Tiger safety Ryan Clark had a bead on the pass - not to mention his hands - but Raider receiver Hansford Johnson plucked it from his grasp for a first down at the Tiger 23.

But the Blue Raiders failed on a fourth-down conversion try, giving LSU possession at its own 23 with 1:50 to go in the half. Saban, perhaps still smarting from harsh criticism of his decision to kill the clock late in the first half against Ole Miss, elected to go into a two-minute drill. Davey completed a nine-yard pass to Clayton to get to the 32, and Toefield had a 17-yard rush to the MTSU 45. Davey found Clayton once more for eight, placing the ball at the Raider 37. With two ticks on the clock, Corbello attempted a 54-yard field goal that would have tied an LSU record. The kick, while on the money, fell just a few yards short and the Tigers took a 27-7 lead into the break.

The LSU offense must have taken a nap during halftime, because they showed signs of sleepwalking during the second half. The Tigers managed just three points in the final two periods, coming from a 42-yard Corbello field goal with 1:45 remaining the third quarter.

The highlight of the half was a lick that Bradie James administered to MTSU running back Dwone Hicks. Counts connected on a screen pass in the backfield to Hicks, who was met by James in a thunderous helmet-to-sternum tackle just as the ball reached him. The ball, which Hicks probably thought was his head, bounced harmlessly on the field next to him.

LSU was forced to punt for the first time on its opening drive of the second half due to a couple of incomplete passes that probably should have been caught. The punt-packed third quarter saw LSU and MTSU combine for four punts, with both teams booting impressive kicks.

The Blue Raiders scored their second touchdown of the game with 5:22 remaining in the game on a 6-yard pass from Counts to Hicks, resulting in what would be the final score of 30-14. The Tiger defense held the Blue Raiders, who entered the game ranked No. 4 in the nation in scoring (averaging 39.5 points per game), to a season-low point total.

"We achieved one of our goals tonight by having a winning season," Bradie James said. "We have a lot of things to build on, and it's is time to go out on a strong note with these last two games."

LSU has a much-needed open date next week, allowing them to heal and prepare for a surprising Arkansas team that visits Tiger Stadium the day after Thanksgiving.

"The open date comes at a good time for us," Saban said. "We've got several guys who are beat up. Hopefully this will give us a chance to get some guys healed up. We'll be able to give the players a couple of days off."

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